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Call Kurtis: Saving Money On Service Calls

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Eight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13's consumer...
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Many companies now charge service fees to send a technician to repair your phone, Internet or TV service, but a Rocklin grandmother thought her $149 charge from AT&T was ridiculous.

With no dial tone, Dee Owens looked up AT&T’s customer service number on her computer and called them with her cell phone.

Just a few hours later, as a technician left her house, the recent widow learned the company wanted $149 for the visit.

“They expect me to pay for that,” she said.

Many companies now charge to send technicians to your home. In the Sacramento area, those fees can range from $33.50 to $149 — and oftentimes there are additional repair fees on top of that.

Some companies will waive those fees if you pay a few dollars a month for a protection plan.

What’s It Cost?

CBS13 surveyed four of the most popular phone, Internet and TV providers in the Sacramento area — Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T.

Comcast customers in Northern California can buy its Service Protection Plan for $2.99 a month. Without it, customers pay $33.50 for service calls related to phone service, or $50 for service calls related to Internet or TV.

Surewest customers have the option to buy a $3.95 monthly protection plan, which covers service calls that would otherwise be $49.95 for “isolation of the trouble.” Additional problems cost $19 per quarter hour.

DirecTV charges $5.99 for monthly “inside wiring” coverage. Without it, technician service calls start at $49.95. Fellow satellite provider Dish Network charges $6 a month for coverage, with a $15/visit fee. Without the monthly plan, service calls cost $95.

AT&T customers like Owens can pay $8/month for an inside wire protection plan. This covers the $149 flat fee for service calls, as well as most repairs.

Is It Worth It?

“They’re basically insurance against having some repair,” said Angie Hicks of consumer-help website Angie’s List.

CBS13 crunched the numbers.

For Comcast customers, it will take 12 months (phone) or 17 months (Internet and TV) to make the monthly protection plan worth it, assuming one service call during that time.

It takes about 13 months for Surewest’s protection plan to make financial sense to customers, assuming one service call is needed (and not factoring in the additional problem charge).

DirecTV customers will need to wait nine months before their monthly $5.99 charge exceeds the cost of a regular $49.95 service call.

Dish Network subscribers, it’s a little trickier. Since Dish charges a $15/visit charge even with a subscription, a monthly plan only saves customers money after 14 months of service, assuming one service call.

And for AT&T customers like Owens, the plan is only worth it if you have a tech out for a wiring problem once every 19 months — more than a year and a half.

AT&T couldn’t tell CBS13 how often the average person requires this type of service call.

Hicks said customers should consider the “surprise” element of many of these service calls.

“If you feel like you can’t afford that surprise fee when your phone goes out or the cable goes out — that’s when you want to consider building this into your monthly bills,” she said.

In Owens’ case, the AT&T tech wasn’t able to fix her problem.

“Why are they billing me for something they didn’t correct?” she said.

Owens learned her issue involved equipment supplied by another phone company altogether.

After CBS13 got involved AT&T credited back Owens’ $149 service call fee, saying, “We are happy to apply a one-time courtesy adjustment.”

“I think it feels wonderful,” Owens said.

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